Ten years ago, if you were to ask any BMW enthusiast if a sport/utility could qualify for Ultimate Driving Machine status, he would've looked at you cross-eyed. Yet, BMW's clientele, dealer body, and the market itself demanded this type of product. The Bavarian automaker entered the sport/utility fray in December 1999 with its "Sport Activity Vehicle"--the X5--with the intent of demonstrating that a rugged SUV could be equally at home off-road and on the autobahn. This intriguing concept was worth a One-Year Test evaluation by our gang.
Our Jet Black X5 4.4i based at $49,400. We added the Sport Package option (suspension upgrades, 19-inch wheels, light wood trim, white turn signals, anthracite headliner, and a beefier steering wheel for $2470), a power moonroof ($1050), Xenon headlamps wheel for $2470), a power moonroof ($1050), Xenon headlamps ($500), navigation system ($1990), premium sound ($1200), and sun-protection glass ($645). With the $645 destination charge, our tester stickered at a hefty $57,910.
Since the X5 is built in Spartanburg, South Carolina, we opted for the factory delivery program, which includes track safety training, off-road instruction, the most complete vehicle walk-around imaginable, a tour of the factory, and lunch--all for the cost of standard delivery. Online-edit guru Jeff Bartlett drew the lucky straw for the trip and drove our new X to MT's Los Angeles headquarters.
Any time you spend over 2000 miles behind the wheel in three days, you get to know a new vehicle quickly, especially its seats. Editor Bartlett gave the BMW's chairs two thumbs up, due to their excellent lumbar and thigh support for the long haul. The rest of our staff later mimicked his feelings: "Most anatomically correct seats I've ever occupied" and "after 285 miles, my back doesn't ache." The navigation system we selected negated the CD player, however, leaving Bartlett with a fistful of unuseable discs--and an empty cassette player--for the schlep home.
We like the X5's familiar interior layout, with hefty gauge hump, clean center stack, rich materials, and impeccable fit and finish. Rear occupants get similar Germanic surroundings: lots of leg- and headroom for the over-six-foot set and a couch that's perfectly supportive. You can squeeze three on the rear bench in a pinch, but they won't be happy on a long trip. For those who need to tote a family of six, an extended version with three rows of seats is on the horizon.
The CD-based nav system on our unit tended to have a mind of its own and wasn't the most accurate we've used. "I hereby dub BMW's navigation aid as the 'SPAZ' system," noted one editor. "At over 80 mph, the screen doesn't refresh fast enough to stay with the vehicle's pace. And I found the vehicle icon to show us 'driving' through the center of a lake, instead of the half-mile inland road on which we were traveling."